No one likes to hear people complain, especially people who go on, and on, and on. But there is a reason people complain for longer than may seem necessary. For the most part, the people who sound like a broken record don’t feel heard. And when people don’t feel heard, they repeat themselves, again, and again, and again.
One of the first practices for how to handle customer complaints taught during any decent customer service training class is to acknowledge the other person’s concern. Demonstrate that you listened and heard. We often think that complainers want us to solve their problems. That’s not always the case. Sometimes feeling heard is enough, even if there is no resolution to the complaint.
Last week I had a horrible experience in a hotel. I called the front desk staff to voice my concerns with how an incident was handled. Her response: “Ok….ok….ok.” I wasn’t satisfied. So the next morning I spoke to the front desk manager. She responded by explaining why her staff had done what they did. Still, no apology or demonstration of understanding my frustration. So I went to the hotel general manager, who did all the right things. She listened and apologized. She didn’t defend or explain. And then I stopped escalating my complaint.
Here are a eight tips for how to handle customer complaints:
How to handle customer complaints tip #1: Resist the temptation to defend yourself, your team, or your organization.
How to handle customer complaints tip #2: Watch your tone of voice. If you sound annoyed, the other person will just become more upset and will, you guessed it, continue complaining.
How to handle customer complaints tip #3: Tell the person you’re sorry for his experience. Apologizing doesn’t mean he is right or that you agree. You are simply sorry he had the experience he did.That could sound like, “I’m sorry that was your experience. That sounds frustrating. That’s certainly not the experience we want customers to have.”
How to handle customer complaints tip #4: Ask clarifying questions, if you need to. That could sound like, “Can I ask you a few questions, so I fully understand the situation?”
How to handle customer complaints tip #5: Paraphrase what the person said to ensure you understand his complaint and to demonstrate that you heard. Nothing sounds better to someone who is upset than another person who understands his concerns. That could sound like, “I just want to be sure I understand your concern. You’re concerned that _______ “ (repeat or paraphrase what the person said.)
How to handle customer complaints tip #6: Apologize again for the person’s experience. Often, all the person wants is an authentic apology. An apology doesn’t admit fault or wrong doing. You are simply apologizing for the person’s perception of their experience.
How to handle customer complaints tip #7: Tell the person what action(s) you’ll take, in any. People like to know that they’re complaints aren’t wasted.
How to handle customer complaints tip #8: Don’t be a black hole. Circle back to the person and let him know what action was or wasn’t taken.
The key to getting someone to stop complaining is to make the other person feel heard. Acknowledge the complaint. Watch your tone of voice. Apologize for the person’s experience. And watch people’s complaints dissipate more quickly than you thought possible.
When I’m not sure what to do, I do nothing. And my hunch is I’m not alone. When something feels big, it’s easier to do nothing than something.
Time management experts will tell you to divide a big project into small pieces, to make it manageable. That’s good advice. The universe – as woo-woo as it sounds – rewards action. Momentum, like inertia, is very powerful. As we know, a body that’s in motion is likely to stay in motion. A body at rest is likely to stay at rest.
The key to getting through anything large, scary, or intimidating is to start. Any action will do. The key is simply taking action.
Here are five keys to make taking action more likely:
Taking action key #1: What often stands in the way of taking action is that we aren’t sure what to do. Perhaps we aren’t sure we can do the task at hand. Or we can’t see what the end result should look like. Or the project feels so big that even thinking about starting is tiring. Ask questions and ask for help.
Most managers aren’t great delegators. When assigning a project, managers often ask, “Do you have any questions?” This is an ineffective question because few people want to admit to having questions about a project that feels so big, all they want to do is avoid it and take a nap. Or managers ask, “What do you need from me?” when most people have no idea what they need.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions until you’re clear about what a good job looks like, and ask for help.
Taking action key #2: Do one small thing, anything, towards achieving the goal. And do it now. Don’t wait until the right time. There is no right time.
Taking action key #3: Then do one more thing. Don’t wait six weeks or months to take another action. Momentum is very powerful. Keep things moving.
Taking action key #4: Give yourself small windows of time to work on a project. If you give yourself 30 uninterrupted minutes to work, you’re likely to invest that time. If you dedicate a day, you’re likely to get distracted and fill the time with other things.
Taking action key #5: Trust that you can do what’s in front of you. Someone wouldn’t have asked you to do something if they’d didn’t have confidence that you could do it. And if this is a goal you set for yourself, and it’s something you really want, deep down, you know you’re capable of doing it.
If you’re overwhelmed or don’t believe you can do something, call someone who has more faith in you than you have in yourself, at this present moment. Let that person fill you with confidence until you can generate it for yourself. When I started Candid Culture, I was filled with fear and quite honestly, was convinced I was going to fail. But everyone around me believed I could do it. And their confidence carried me until I could generate my own.
The way out is always through. Ask for help. Take one small action, then another. Dedicate small pieces of uninterrupted time to work on a large project. Trust that you can do it. Things don’t get done without your action. Take one action, then the next, then the next.
The normal, natural reaction to negative feedback is to become defensive, a response I’ve recently labeled as The Freak Out.
Everyone, even the people you think do little work, wants to be seen as good – competent, hardworking, and adding value. When anyone calls our competence into question, we get defensive. Becoming defensive is an automatic response that we have to train out of ourselves.
Until the people you work with train themselves not to become visibly defensive when receiving feedback, just expect it. And be happy when you get a defensive response. It means the person is breathing and cares enough about what you’re saying to get upset.
While you can’t get rid of a defensive response to feedback, you can reduce it by following a few employee feedback practices. Practice these methods of giving feedback and your input will be heard and acted on, more often than not.
Employee feedback practice one: Don’t wait. Give feedback shortly after something happens. But do wait until you’re not upset. Practice the 24-hour guideline and the one week rule. If you’re upset, wait at least 24-hours to give feedback, but not longer than a week. If the feedback recipient can’t remember the situation you’re talking about, you waited too long to give feedback, and you will appear to be someone who holds a grudge.
Employee feedback practice two: Be specific. Provide examples. If you don’t have an example, you’re not ready to give feedback.
Employee feedback practice three: Praise in public. Criticize in private. Have all negative feedback discussions behind a closed door.
Employee feedback practice four: Effective feedback discussions are a dialogue; both people talk. When the feedback recipient responds defensively, don’t be thwarted by his/her reaction. Listen to what s/he has to say and keep talking. Don’t get distracted.
Employee feedback practice five: Give small amounts of feedback at a time – one or two strengths and areas for improvement during a conversation. People cannot focus on more than one or two things at a time.
Employee feedback practice six: Give feedback on the recipient’s schedule and in his/her workspace, if s/he has a door. It will give the other person a sense of control and s/he will be more receptive.
Employee feedback practice seven: Talk with people – either in person or via phone. Don’t send an email or voicemail. Email is for wimps and will only damage your relationships.
Employee feedback practice eight: Prepare. Make notes of what you plan to say and practice out loud. Articulating a message and thinking about it in your head are not the same thing.
Employee feedback practice nine: Avoid The Empathy Sandwich – positive feedback before and after negative feedback. Separate the delivery of positive and negative feedback, so your message is clear.
Employee feedback practice ten: Offer an alternative. Suggest other ways to approach challenges. If people knew another way to do something, they would do it that way.
You can deal with whatever reaction to negative feedback you get. The other person’s response will not kill you. It might make you uncomfortable, but that’s ok. You’ll survive. Try to practice the guidelines above, and if you don’t, and you ‘do it all wrong,’ at least you said something. Just opening your mouth is half the battle. When you come from a good place of truly wanting to make a difference for the other person, and you have both the trust and permission to give feedback, you really can’t go wrong.
Some people say that you show employees appreciation by giving them a paycheck and that any more thanks is over the top. We call that old school management. And it doesn’t work.
The human brain thrives on recognition. People are more likely to replicate positive behaviors when those behaviors are recognized. If your employees are doing a good job and you appreciate them, don’t make them guess. “Well, my badge still works. So I guess things are going ok,” is not sufficient recognition.
Today is Employee Appreciation Day – a made-up holiday to remind us to say “thank you” to the people we work with, who contribute every day.
Don’t take your employees for granted, or you’ll be finding new ones.
Here are six ways to mark Employee Appreciation Day today and every day:
Employee appreciation ideas 1) Ask employees what’s important to them – why they accepted the job, why they stay, and how they would like to receive recognition.
Most employees will work their entire career without a manager ever asking these questions. Getting to know your employees better and differently costs nothing but a little time.
Employee appreciation ideas 2) Ask employees about the kind of work they want to do in the future and what they want to learn and gain exposure to. Write down what they say (so you don’t have to remember) and give employees exposure to this type of work when it’s appropriate (when there’s a business need and when they’ve earned it by doing good work.)
Employee appreciation ideas 3) Give very specific, positive feedback regularly. Giving specific feedback demonstrates you’re paying attention to employees’ work and noticing the impact they’re making. Employees want to know how they’re doing. As odd as it may sound, feedback is a form of recognition. Taking the time to observe performance and give specific, timely feedback tells employees they matter.
Employee appreciation ideas 4) Tell the senior people in your organization what a great job your employees are doing. Employees have limited exposure to senior leaders. Don’t make the people who can influence your employees’ careers guess who’s doing great work.
Employee appreciation ideas 5) Take the time to write a handwritten note. In my 15 years of working in a corporate environment, I received one handwritten note from one of my managers. I kept it for 10 years.
Employee appreciation ideas 6) Spend time with your employees. Every employee needs face time with his/her boss. Don’t underestimate the value employees place on the time you give them. If you’re not meeting with your employees on a one-on-one basis regularly, start. Meet for 30-minutes once a quarter. Then meet once a month. Employees create the meeting agenda and come prepared to give you an update on their work. You should be prepared to give both positive and upgrade feedback.
Notice not one of the employee appreciation ideas or ways to recognize Employee Appreciation Day above is monetary in nature. Employees want your time and attention. They want to learn and grow. Provided employees feel fairly compensated, money is secondary.
Today, and every day, find a way to say “thank you” that’s meaningful to your employees. And the only way to know what employees will find meaningful is to ask.
In last week’s blog, I advocated for picking up the phone, even when you don’t want to, being patient, and asking questions versus accusing. Admittedly, it’s easier to be generous with some people than with others. Some people are just hard to work with. And no matter how much you want to do the right thing, when difficult people’s names show up on your caller-id, it’s tempting to let them go to voicemail, indefinitely.
There are a few behaviors that make people difficult people to work with. Avoid these communication blunders, and help ensure your calls don’t go to voicemail.
Five tips to be easy to work with:
How to be easy to work with tip 1: Don’t take things personally. Human beings are wired for survival. Most people are so worried about themselves – looking good and doing well – they’re not all that worried about you. When you get overlooked for a project or a meeting, rather than feeling slighted, ask what happened that you weren’t included. Or just be grateful you have one fewer meeting to attend.
How to be easy to work with tip 2: Remember it’s not all about you. People who think everything is about them are exhausting to be with. Be humble. Take an interest in others. And remember that no matter how talented and fabulous you are, you’re not the only one in your organization who is producing results.
How to be easy to work with tip 3: Give other people the benefit of the doubt. Most people are genuinely trying to do the right thing. If you question someone’s motives or actions, ask a question before making a decision about that person.
I like the question, “Help me understand…?” It’s neutral and invites the other person to speak. If you choose to ask this question, watch your tone of voice. If you can safely add the words “you dummy” to a question, you have a tone issue.
How to be easy to work with tip 4: Temper your emotions at work. You’re human and human beings have feelings. But sometimes our feelings can be off putting to others. Most people are uncomfortable when managers and coworkers yell, cry, or give the silent treatment. Manage your emotions at work. Wait to have conversations until you’re not upset. And if you can’t manage your emotions during a conversation, excuse yourself until you can.
How to be easy to work with tip 5: Be introspective and self-aware. The better you know yourself and how you impact others, the more you can work with others how they like to work. Periodically ask people you trust for feedback on the impression you make and what you’re like to work with. Listen to their feedback and adjust your communication habits to be easier to work with.
The bottom line – to be easy to work with you need to be sensitive to how you impact others. People who pay attention to how they impact others and make changes to work better with others, are enjoyable to work with. People who don’t pay attention to how they impact others and aren’t open to altering their working styles get sent to voicemail.
As someone who writes and teaches about effective communication in the workplace, the people I work and socialize with are expecting me to model good communication skills all the time. The good news: I try really hard to always do the right thing and impact people positively. The bad news, I’m human and sometimes I don’t get it right.
One of the things I’m proud of about Candid Culture, is that we are real people, working with real people. We work very hard to practice effective communication in the workplace and to always model what we’re teaching. And yet, like all people, we get busy, rushed, and tired. We read emails we intend to reply to, but then forget to do so. We occasionally send emails, when we should pick up the phone.
In my world, a good communicator is not someone who always communicates perfectly.
A good communicator who practices effective communication in the workplace is someone who:
- Cares about people and consistently works to communicate in the way others need.
- Asks for and is open to feedback about how s/he impacts people.
- Listens and watches other people’s verbal and non-verbal communication.
- Alters his/her communication style to meet other people’s needs.
- Takes responsibility when things don’t go well.
This week I’m advocating for picking up the phone, even when you want to do everything but, being patient, even when you’re frustrated, and asking questions, versus accusing. And I’m going to admit, I’m working to do these things too. Sometimes I get it right, and sometimes I don’t. I’m in the trenches with you, working to say and do the right things every day.
I promised you five tips to practice effective communication in the workplace and to be generous with people:
- Only call people when you have adequate time, attention, and patience to have whatever conversation needs to be had.
- If you need a few days to return a call, say so. Let the person know when you’ll call.
- Prepare for conversations. Plan what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it.
- Don’t have hard conversations when you’re frustrated, tired, or busy. They won’t go well.
- If the conversation goes poorly, call back later and clean it up.
Being a good communicator doesn’t mean being perfect. It means caring enough to notice when you miss the mark, cleaning up your messes, and working to do it better next time. I’ll be working on the above recommendations too this week. And when I screw it up, you can be assured that my mistakes will become examples in our training programs of what not to do, followed by a new technique that will hopefully work for all of us.
You will be passed over for jobs, projects, and opportunities – personally and professionally. People will choose not to buy from you and they’ll choose not to be your friend and romantic partner. And that’s ok. Not everyone is our right “customer.” The key isn’t to win every opportunity. Rather, it’s what we do when we don’t get what we want.
When you’re done feeling disappointed, mad, and frustrated, get curious. Find out why you were passed over. I’ll never suggest you make changes. I simply want you to know what’s standing in your way, so you have power – the power to choose. Eliminate your business blind spots.
All of us have blind spots – things we do that are off putting to others, that we’re not aware of. For the most part, people won’t tell us our business blind spots, instead, they simply pass us over. Being rejected is feedback, it’s just not specific enough to help us make different choices. If you want to be able to change your behavior, you need to know what behaviors are standing in your way. Then you can choose what, if anything, to do about those behaviors.
When you get turned town for an opportunity, practice these strategies to eliminate your business blind spots:
- Allow yourself to have an emotional reaction, to feel disappointed and grieve the loss.
- When your emotions dissipate, call people who can tell you why you were turned down, and ask for feedback. The goal of the conversation: Eliminate your business blind spots.
- Be humble and open.
Consider saying something like, “Thank you so much for considering me/us to support your needs. We were disappointed not to win your business. Would you willing to share what had you choose a different provider and what we could have done differently to be a stronger candidate? I’ll be grateful for anything you’re willing to tell me.”
Depending on the circumstances, you could also say something like, “I wasn’t put on the _______ project. I wonder if you have any information as to why? I appreciate anything you’re able to tell me. Your input will help me grow and eliminate by business blind spots.”
- Regardless of what you hear, thank the person for the feedback. You can ask for additional information and ask who else you can talk with, but don’t become defensive. The less defensive you get, the more feedback you’ll get. Make it easy to tell you the truth (as the other person sees it).
Remember, information is power, and power is control. Many people don’t give direct feedback because they’re afraid of the other person’s reaction. Surprise people by being open to feedback, and eliminate your business blind spots.
- Validate feedback that doesn’t feel right to you. If you’re not sure what someone told you is accurate, vet the feedback with other people you trust. Simply ask other people, who are aware of your performance, “I received this feedback. Does that resonate with you?”
- Sit with the feedback for a few days before taking any action.
- When your emotions have passed, decide what, if anything, you want to do with the input you’ve received. Perhaps you want to make changes. Perhaps you don’t. Either way, you have more power than you did before you received any input.
You won’t win them all. The key isn’t avoiding rejection, it’s what you do when you don’t get what you want. Be brave. Be open. Ask for feedback. And you’ll have the power to make different choices next time, if you want to.
People often hoard feedback until a situation becomes so frustrating that they can’t help but speak up. And because they waited too long to say what they think, many more words come tumbling out than is either necessary or helpful.
When it comes to giving feedback, less is more. Be specific, give an example or two, and stop talking.
If you want people to be receptive to your feedback, make it easier to hear by saying less. By saying less, I don’t mean don’t tell the truth or provide enough information that the person knows precisely what to do differently. I do mean, don’t provide more information than is necessary.
You are likely familiar with the phrase “let someone save face.” Allowing someone to save face requires saying just enough that the person knows what to do differently, but not so much that the person feels attacked.
Here are two examples of giving feedback do’s and don’ts:
Too much feedback: Last week you turned in a report that had five typos and had important pieces of information missing. I’m surprised you’d be so careless. It made our entire department look bad. I’m perplexed that you’d submit work without checking it first. What is leading you not to check your work and submit incomplete reports?
Don’t repeat feedback. Say it once and move on. And remove unnecessary judgments (careless) and share just the facts.
Just the right amount of feedback: The report you gave me last week had a few typos and was missing some important information. The report went to the client with those errors which didn’t reflect well on our department. What happened?
Too much feedback: I noticed you didn’t speak up during last week’s department meeting. People won’t know the value you provide if you don’t share what you’re working on. You need to be more vocal. People’s only exposure to you is often during our team meetings. If you don’t speak up, you won’t establish yourself as a leader in your department. People really need to know what you’re working on and the impact you’re making.
Too much feedback sounds like nagging. Most people don’t want to work with their parents.
Just the right amount of feedback: I noticed you didn’t speak during last week’s department meeting. Often, team members’ only exposure to you is during our weekly meetings. How can I help you feel comfortable speaking up so you can establish yourself as a leader in the department?
It’s easy to get carried away when giving feedback. We’re likely frustrated. And when our emotions run the show, it’s easy to say too much.
Here are three practices for giving feedback:
- Practice the 24-hour guideline and the one-week-rule. If you’re upset, wait 24-hours to give feedback, but not longer than a week after an event.
- Plan what you’re going to say both in writing and out loud. Practicing a conversation in your head is not the same as speaking it.
- Let someone you trust hear what you’re planning to say and ask that person how you can improve the feedback. Ask what you can remove without losing any of the message.
Planning a conversation is like packing for a trip. When packing for a trip, many people put their clothes on the bed, then put the clothing in a suitcase. Realizing they have way more than they need, they start taking things out of the suitcase. Eventually they arrive at their destination with much less than they initially packed, but still more than they need.
Use the same principles when planning a feedback conversation. Put every thought you have on paper, and then remove what you don’t need, leaving only the necessary points that tell the person just what he needs to do differently.
When giving feedback, less is more. Tell the person what happened, why it’s a problem, and what she needs to do differently. Then stop talking and let her save face.
Stuff happens. People won’t give you what you need to complete projects. Things will break. And you will look bad. When breakdowns happen, I always ask myself, “What could I have done to prevent this situation?” or “What did I do to help create this situation?”
It may sound odd that I always look at myself when breakdowns occur, even when it’s someone else who didn’t do her job, but it’s just easier. I can’t control anyone else. But I can control me (admittedly, some days I do a better job at this than others). When I can identify something I could have done to make a situation go differently, I feel more in control – aka better.
It’s like getting off a highway with bumper-to-bumper traffic. Your alternate route may take longer, but at least you’re moving. You feel like you’re doing something and thus have more control. Taking responsibility for everything that happens to you is similar. When you’re accountable, you can do something to improve your situation. When someone else is accountable, you’re at the mercy of other people and have very little control.
There are, of course, exceptions to the practice that “we’re always accountable.” Terrible acts of violence, crime, and illness happen to people, about which they have no control. But in general, in our day-to-day lives, there is typically something we did to contribute to a bad situation or something we can do to improve it.
Here are four practices for improving difficult situations, even when you didn’t create the mess (alone).
1) Increasing accountability in the workplace: Ask more questions. If you’re not clear about what someone is expecting from you, ask. You’re responsible for doing good work, regardless of the type of direction you receive.
2) Increasing accountability in the workplace: Tell people what you think they’re expecting and what you’re planning to do, to ensure everyone’s expectations are aligned. Clarifying expectations beats doing weeks’ worth of work, only to discover what you created isn’t what someone else had it mind.
3) Increasing accountability in the workplace: Ask for specific feedback as projects progress. Don’t wait until the end of a project to find out how you performed.
4) Increasing accountability in the workplace: Say “thank you” to whatever feedback you receive versus defending yourself. People will be pleasantly surprised and their upset will dissipate more quickly. That could sound like, “That’s good feedback. I’m sorry that was your experience. Thank you for telling me.”
5) Increasing accountability in the workplace: Admit when you make a mistake or when you wish you had done something differently. Don’t wait for someone to tell you. Saying, “I’m sorry. How can I make this right with you?” goes a long way.
I am always asking these questions:
“What could I have done differently?”
“What did I do to contribute to this situation?”
“What can I do now to make this situation better?”
And I encourage you to do the same, even when someone else drops the ball. You can’t control others, but you can control you. And your happiness and success is your responsibility.
A professional athlete would never get on the court, field, or ice without knowing the rules of the game. Athletes know every action that will result in points, penalties, and other positive and negative consequences. Yet many of us go to work without any idea of how we’re being held accountable and what a good job looks like.
In the next few weeks, way too many people will have a performance review during which they will receive feedback that’s a surprise.
Writing clear, specific, and measurable goals is the key to managing your own work performance and to not being caught off guard by performance appraisals. Writing goals may not be sexy or fun, but doing so is the key to taking control of your year.
Four tips for setting goals at work:
1. Setting goals at work: Don’t wait for your manager to suggest writing goals. Ask permission to draft 5 to 7 goals.
2. Setting goals at work: Discuss and finalize each goal with your manager, and ask that the goals be the criteria for your 2015 evaluation.
3. Setting goals at work: Write such specific goals, that at the end of the year, it’s very clear whether you did or didn’t produce the agreed-upon results. When goals are specific, performance appraisals write themselves.
4. Setting goals at work: As business priorities and objectives change, goals change as well. Review your goals with your manager quarterly and make changes as appropriate.
Here are questions to answer when writing goals:
- What results will you produce? What will be different in the organization at the end of the year? (X%) Assign each goal a percentage. Weight each goal by importance.
- What actions will you take? What will you do, and when will you do it?
- How will you know you’ve made progress or achieved your goal? What will be different as a result of your work? (This should be quantitative. Use numbers.)
Here is a completed sample goal:
Results to produce: Retain 90% of new customers. Weighting: 40%
Actions to take:
- Have a setting-expectation meeting with each new customer.
- Return all customer calls within 24-hours.
- Call 10% of customers quarterly, and ask for feedback.
Milestones and year-end results:
- Customer complaints will drop by 20%.
- Customer change orders will drop by 10%.
Early in my career, I worked for an organization that did goal setting well. Each employee wrote 5 to 7 goals that were weighted and extraordinarily specific. It was obvious, throughout the year, if employees were meeting performance standards. And at the end of the year, it was so clear whether or not employees had done what they needed to do, employees could write their own performance appraisal. That’s the power of goals. Well-written goals drive performance, empower employees, and remove the debate about results.
When what you need to do during the year is clearly articulated, you’ve set yourself up to win. You know exactly what you need to do to be successful.
Not every goal or objective at work is numerical and clear cut, but many are. Write down what you need to do and what the desired outcome looks like, whenever possible, and you’ll feel more empowered and in control at work than you previously thought possible.